by BWS Staff
Blue Water Sailing
A 1,000-mile test of the California builder’s popular blue-water cruiser
Catalina has been in business for 34 years, and in those years they have produced some memorable boats. There are Catalinas in every marina, harbor and dockyard in the country, but for the most part, Catalinas are known for their daysailing, coastal and family cruising boats. Because of this, BWS’s interest was genuinely piqued when we were offered a chance to take a Catalina 470 for a 1,000-mile offshore test. This is a boat that is built for offshore work and one that has been popular with sailors, with 135 sold since its introduction in 1998. We were on Luba, hull number 74, purchased by Tony Booso, a contractor in Brooklyn, in 2001.
Our sea trials began at the owner’s berth at the Gateway Marina in Brooklyn and finished in Bermuda after participating in the West Marine Bermuda Cup, organized by the Cruising Rally Association. The full story on that race will be in the October issue of BWS.
The 470 was designed, like all of Catalina’s boats since 1976, by Gerry Douglas, the company’s designer and senior officer. While the boat’s scantlings are sturdy, solid and suitable for offshore sailing, we asked Gerry about the lack of leecloths and sea berths. His answer was illuminating, revealing much of what has made Catalina a success in an industry littered with memories of bankrupt boat manufacturers.
“The philosophy is to design boats for the way most people use them most of the time. If we designed it as a pure offshore passage-maker it would not have the appeal for the way people use the boat most of the time,” he said.
THE IMPORTANT THINGS
The important things are included, though. “We put our energy and design into things the owner can’t modify,” he added. “The laminate is heavy, the ballast is lead; those are things the owner can’t change. All the stuff that’s basic to the boat is where we put our money. Do the basics right and those that want to go offshore, let them add leecloths.”
The basics seem to be right. The first day out of New York we were in very light airs, and once we were clear of the fog that covered the coast we fired up the big Yanmar diesel, a 75-horsepower turbo that moved us along at 4.9 to five knots at a comfortable 1,900 rpm. At that speed the engine was reasonably quiet and tolerable both on deck and in the saloon. At 3,400 rpm we roared along at just over eight knots, pushed by the 21 by 16, three-blade fixed prop, and things were a bit less comfortable in the saloon. You could still hold a conversation, but if motoring with the engine nearly flat-out was a priority, you would give serious thought to upgrading the sound insulation in the engine compartment. You could, of course, just choose to motor at a more sensible pace, and we found that motoring at 2,900 rpm, probably the engine’s most efficient speed, gave us 7.3 to 7.5 knots, with fuel consumption of around one gallon per hour and a noise level that was much easier to live with.
Fuel is carried in two, 44-gallon tanks. Tank selection is done with valves located in the engine compartment, plainly labeled and easy to operate. You can draw and return to either tank when running the engine. The genset can run from either tank but will only return to one tank. You need to exercise a modicum of care when operating the genset and the main engine with two full tanks. It is not quite idiot-proof, but offshore sailing isn’t the sort of thing done by idiots, at least not for long. The fuel supply has two parallel filters, a thoughtful touch and one that will be blessed by anyone whose filter clogs just as they are approaching the harbor inlet.
The Catalina 470 is a twin-spreader, masthead sloop and is available with a standard mast and a “tall rig.” The tall rig has an air draft of 67 feet, nine inches, ruling out the Intracoastal Waterway. Luba carried the standard rig, with 63 feet, four inches air draft. With the ICW bridge clearance officially 64 feet, this is the rig for The Ditch. Luba came with in-mast main furling and a high-cut 135 percent roller-furling headsail, using a Schaeffer 3100 roller. The sails were from Catalina’s in-house loft, “one of the busiest on the West Coast,” according to Douglas.
QUIET AS A LIBRARY
When the wind picked up we set the sails, a job made even easier with the Harken B44.2STEH electric winch, mounted on the starboard side of the deck-house. It is the only powered winch on the standard deck layout, with a manual B44.2ST on the other
side. Two massive Harken B66.2ST winches take care of the headsail, located in the usual place on the coaming, with an equally massive Garhauer turning block providing a fair lead to the sheets. The big winches are standard, as is the Maxwell 1200 electric windlass, and we were impressed with the level of deck equipment provided as standard.
With a true wind of 11.5 knots we made 6.5 knots through the water at 40 degrees apparent. The wind slowly picked up and backed a few degrees. A few hours later we were looking at 23 knots of true wind at 35 degrees apparent with speeds through the water that hit seven knots at times.
With the wind up we came about and hove to. It was like slipping into a fitted parking space. We forereached at a barely perceptible rate with the saloon as quiet as a library. We kept the full set of sails up a bit longer than we should have, making the excuse that it was for the test. We went below to see how things were at 30 degrees of heel. The lee rail was solidly awash and the leeward portlight in the saloon more nearly resembled an aquarium than a window. Going across the saloon was easy, with handholds perfectly placed. The galley was secure. We found the best place to work when heeled, on either tack, was tucked against the counter and facing aft. You could reach the stove and were clear of anything being launched off the cooking surface.
We tested each door and drawer in the entire boat. Even at this angle of heel, with the boat working hard and taking a lot of water over the bow, everything worked, with no evidence of the hull twisting. For this torsional rigidity much is due to the construction method. The hull is solid glass from the keel to six inches above the waterline. Above that is a laminate using 3/4-inch, end-grain, double-scored and coated (so it won’t absorb water) balsa.
The boat is built in five major pieces. While the one-piece hull is still in the mold the structural grid, running the length of the boat, is put in place. This massive, purely functional molding takes the chainplate loads, supports the mast, engine and tankage, and incorporates a set of molded-in six-inch PVC pipes to provide electrical wiring runs. There are access holes at regular intervals, and the tubes themselves are a full 18 inches above the bilge, keeping the wires clean and dry.
Next into the boat is the hull liner, a nonstructural element built to be light and functional. The deck molding and the deck liner are the last parts to be fitted, and all this is done with the hull still in the mold, to absolutely prevent movement. All bulkheads serve as transverse stiffening elements but have no rigging loads.
This is a boat that will have the absolute minimum number of problems with deck leaks because all deck hardware is attached to plates of aluminum or brass set into the laminate. Mounting screws are set into blind-tapped holes so there are no through-holes in the deck.
As befits a boat nearly 48 feet long, the 470 has two heads, and the good news here is that there is one for each tack. While there are many articles in the sailing press that allege to be boat tests, a few hours puttering around the harbor won’t provide the opportunity, much less the need, to use the head. The heads face out, providing as much security as one can have, given the circumstances. Each head has its own macerator and holding tank and comes standard with a Y-valve for offshore use. A separate shower is in each head, with a seat that faces a fixed bulkhead, allowing you to brace yourself while showering.
The boat’s 214-gallon water supply is carried in five tanks, selected with a manifold located under one of the saloon sole boards.
A MARVEL OF EASE
With the roller furlers on both sails, taking in sail was a marvel of ease. With the reduced sail area Luba was only slightly slower, perhaps half a knot, but the lee rail was now visible. The 470 comes in two versions, a deep keel and a winged, shoal version. Roughly three-quarters of all 470s are purchased with the shoal keel, which requires five feet, nine inches of water. The fin keel, drawing seven feet, 10 inches, comes with a deeper rudder and is 530 pounds lighter than the wing keel.
Both keels are solid lead castings and provide very similar ballast ratios, 33 percent for the fin and 34 percent for the wing keel. The wing keel 470 sets up to 10 to 15 degrees of heel pretty quickly, but it takes a lot of wind to get it over much farther. The bolt pattern for both keels is identical, as is the shape of the fin, so a 470 owner could, theoretically at least, put his boat up on the hard and swap keels and rudders.
The rudder deserves mention, primarily for its construction details. It is made with a stainless steel stock, and the rudder itself is made of two asymmetrical halves. The split between the two halves is thus not at the edge of the rudder but set back so that the “smaller half” just fills the empty space. The high-density foam and the encapsulating fiberglass are put in and then the rudder is sealed with the attachment of the smaller half. The lower third of the rudder is designed to break away without damaging the rudder mechanism. How does it steer with the remaining rudder? “We have gone out and sawn off the bottom,” said Douglas, “and it still steers—not as well but better than no rudder.”
The twin wheels are a design element with a practical aspect. Each wheel is independently linked to the rudder, and the autopilot has its own attachment to the rudderstock as well. Add the emergency tiller and you have four separate, independent methods of steering the boat.
The open transom, with a drop-down boarding ladder, is easy to use, with the twin wheels providing aclear passage. The boarding ladder has to be dropped to get on or off the boat from the stern, which means that for the entire two weeks you are tied up to the dock in St. Tropez the ladder is sitting in the water.
Before we headed offshore we had a look at the chain locker. The vertical windlass can feed anchor chain into either of the two deep chain lockers, properly shaped to handle chain. We did have a problem with the large, scoop-shaped opening in the hatch over the chain locker. The fix was easy; we cut and bent a scrap piece of aluminum sheet, notching it so that the chain served to hold it in place. As it turns out, instructions on making exactly this piece of gear are in the owner’s manual. So why don’t they include it in the first place? Depending on the owner’s choice of anchors, according to Douglas, each anchor requires subtle differences in the shape of the cover.
Aft of the chain locker is a deep sail locker and then a watertight collision bulkhead, six feet aft of the bow. The shower in the forward head abuts the collision bulkhead in the bow.
COMFORTABLE AND COMFORT
The cockpit works well offshore. The seats are long enough to comfortably lie down on, the backs are high enough to provide support for your back or keep you feeling secure when napping on the leeward side. We would do something about the seating arrangements behind the wheel, as we never found a comfortable place to “nest” during a long trick at the wheel in the dark of night. The seats had padded covers; it was support for our back that we craved. The problem isn’t insurmountable and could be solved with a few cushions snapped to the rails.
Going below requires stepping over a very sensible and serious bridgedeck, with handholds making it secure in any sea condition. Stepping below, the galley is to port and the forward-facing nav station is to starboard. The navigator’s seat needs a footrest for security on starboard tack, and we would like to add fiddles to the top of the desk, which is large enough for an Admiralty chart folded in half.
The interior comes in three layouts: two cabins, three cabins and two cabins with a workbench. Nearly all of the boats are ordered with the two-cabin layout, a piece of information we found surprising but an indication that Catalina has correctly figured the real use of this boat. The workbench is located in its own cabin, which runs the length of the port side of the aft cabin and offers full standing headroom, good light and ventilation, with a workbench big enough for a vise, tool chests and the paraphernalia of cruising. So far Catalina has sold three boats with this layout.
Luba had the two-cabin layout, and the aft cabin, with an island double, is spacious indeed. Tony hadn’t yet installed leecloths, but two coolers exactly filled the space between the berth and the hull, providing secure snoozing. With the workbench version, the bed rests against a fore-and-aft bulkhead on the port side.
The three-cabin version splits the aft cabin into two cabins, which share a head.
The U-shaped galley has a refrigerator with top-and side-opening doors, with the freezer portion only having a top-opening door. Next to the stove is a deep, dry storage area, and completing the U is the double sink. The water system comes with a foot pump for freshwater, yet another example of Catalina’s design standards. The boat comes with pressure hot and cold water, of course, but what do you do if there is a problem? You will never lack for water, even if the pumping system quits working, as long as there is water in the tanks.
The saloon has a large table with enough straight seating area that the settee provides a good sea berth on starboard tack. The port side of the saloon is available with either two reclining chairs or a single, long settee. For offshore work the settee would provide a sea berth on port tack; although the recliners on Luba were pressed into service as sea berths, they didn’t go back far enough to be a bed.
Stowage space is ample and varied, but nearly all of it is above the sole. Bilge space could be used but such use would require fabricating shelves and boxes. The galley absorbed food for five for two weeks and there was room for more, lots more. Hanging lockers and drawers come with sensible push-to-release knobs.
The stepping of the mast is another example of Catalina’s clever engineering. Deck stepped, the mast rests on a stainless steel compression post. The post is dropped into the boat after the deck is attached, through a hole just big enough to allow its entry. The top of the post has a large stainless steel plate on it that looks like a standpipe above the compression post. This is for the wiring. The bottom of this plate is glued with 5200 to the deck. The mast sits on a separate and matching stainless steel plate, called a deck hat, which is bolted to the plate at the top of the compression post. The blocks at the base of the mast and the vang attach to the deck hat.
Electrical wiring comes down the mast in a PVC pipe, makes an S-curve at the deck hat and enters the compression post through the standpipe. This prevents water from entering the boat while providing mast support as strong as a keel-stepped system. Small holes at the hat plate/mast heel junction drain any water that comes down the mast from the sheaves.
After 1,000 miles on the 470 we came away im-pressed with Catalina’s offshore flagship. It is a sturdy, secure, seaworthy boat incorporating Catalina’s nearly four decades of boatbuilding expertise. Like any boat there are things we would change or do differently and things that need to be added. But true to Douglas and Catalina’s design philosophies the basics are there. We saw no evidence of shortcuts in construction or design, we were comfortable regardless of the sea state, and the crew was always rested and well fed. This is a boat we would take to sea, a boat we could live on in remote anchorages, urban marinas and in the center of the blue bowl that is our offshore world.
Draft (fin keel) 7’10”
Draft (wing keel) 5’9”
Displ. (fin) 27,270 lbs.
Displ. (wing) 27,750 lbs.
Sail Area (standard rig) 1,010 sq. ft.
SA (tall rig) 1,092 sq. ft.
Air draft (standard) 63’4”
Air draft (tall) 67’9”
D/L (fin) 164.3
D/L (wing) 167.2
fin keel 17.84
wing keel 17.63
fin keel 19.28
wing keel 19.06
Limit of Positive Stability 126 degrees
Pounds/inch immersion 1637
Water 214 gals.
Fuel 88 gals.
Engine 75-hp Yamaha 4JH3TE
Sailaway price $296,000
back to top